Will Safety Concerns Keep Fans Away from F1 Podium Ceremonies?

Matthew WalthertFeatured ColumnistNovember 9, 2013

Fans flood the track for the podium celebration at the 2013 Italian Grand Prix.
Fans flood the track for the podium celebration at the 2013 Italian Grand Prix.Andrew Hone/Getty Images

The podium ceremony following any Formula One race is a special moment.  Thousands of cheering fans surround the platform, clamouring to get as close as possible to their favourite drivers.  But this spectator participation could soon be a thing of the past.

Just after the 2013 Canadian Grand Prix, a volunteer track worker was killed when he was run over by a crane carrying a damaged F1 car.  Last Wednesday, Québec's workplace health and safety commission (CSST) released a report (in French only) on its investigation into the accident.  It points out that the tragedy was preventable, had the volunteers received proper training and had the crane been operated according to the manufacturer's instructions.

One of the contributing factors in the accident was the speed at which the crane was travelling.  The reason for this speed?  The workers were trying to get the car back to the pit lane before hordes of fans poured onto the track, headed for the podium.

F1 teams are understandably nervous about leaving stricken cars abandoned around the circuit.  Each car is worth over $2 million in parts alone.  Add to that the development costs, which are even more of a worry for the teams.  The last thing they want is a fan snapping close-up photos of their latest design innovations and plastering them on the web.

Whether keeping fans off the track would have prevented the accident in Montréal is something that cannot be known.  However, CBC indicated that option is being considered to help ensure an accident like this never happens again.

François Dumontier, the president of Octane Racing Group, the race organizer, told the CBC, "It's a tragedy.  The family lost a son...We're going to work closely with the CSST to make sure that doesn't happen again at our track."

F1 and other high-speed sports are inherently risky—some accidents are not preventable.  Participants, from drivers to photographers to volunteer marshals, accept these risks.  So when a preventable accident does occur, it is all the more tragic.

Now, back to the original question: Will fans be banned from the track after future races in Montréal, or at other grands prix?  It is not outside the realm of possibility.  

After a cameraman was injured by a run-away tyre at the 2013 German Grand Prix, the FIA, F1's governing body and Formula One Management (FOM) announced a ban on media in the pit lane, even during practice sessions.

Working F1 journalists were skeptical that this change would actually improve safety, or that it could have prevented the accident.  Rather, they felt it was a reactionary decision taken without due consideration.  The ban was later relaxed (slightly).

The volunteer workers, shortly before the fatal accident after the Canadian Grand Prix.
The volunteer workers, shortly before the fatal accident after the Canadian Grand Prix.Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

If the FIA, FOM, or Octane Racing are worried about potential litigation, they may decide it is easier to just keep the spectators in the grandstands.  The outcry from fans, though, would be massive.  The podium celebrations are one of the few times they can actually get close to the drivers in modern F1.

One possible solution is to delay spectators from entering onto the track until any stranded cars have been recovered or at least moved to a secure location.  The fans would still have access to the track, but accidents like the one in Montréal could be prevented.

That would seem sensible, but, as any F1 fan knows, the FIA and FOM are not always known for sensible decisions.

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